Privacy fears after Tenancy Tribunal error

The Tenancy Tribunal sending a woman private details of strangers, including their rental agreement, contact details, and photos of their house and cars was due to "human error", the government ministry in charge of the tribunal says.

Waikato woman Dayna Kennedy has concerns her private information may have been sent to a stranger after she received someone else's information in error from the Tenancy Tribunal.

Kennedy received a claim from the Tribunal on July 25 with her name and address on the cover letter saying she had been summoned to court on July 30.

The letter stated the attached documents would elaborate on what the claim from her landlord concerned.

But when she began reading the file, Kennedy discovered a tenancy agreement that did not belong to her - and neither did any of the other papers in the claim.

"It was all someone else's private documents," she said.

"This includes full names, contact information, their tenancy agreement, the application put forward against them, photos of their house, cars, licence plates and so much more."

The tenancy agreement also included the name and bank account details of the Christchurch-based stranger's landlord.

Kennedy said she considered the situation a serious breach of privacy, and contacted the Tribunal immediately to inform them of the error.

She was left without documents pertaining to her own case, and had to wait until the morning of the scheduled hearing to be granted an adjournment.

Kennedy was also concerned the person whose documents she had may have had hers.

"I was informed that there was actually a potential third party that could have my paperwork as the person's paperwork I received had their father as a mailing address," she said.

A week later, she was informed via email that the person whose file she had said they did not have Kennedy's documents.

After Stuff contacted the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment, which deals with the administration of the Tenancy Tribunal, Kennedy was contacted by a ministry representative.

She confirmed she still had the other person's documents, and was asked to return them.

But unsatisfied with the handling of the situation by the tribunal and the ministry, Kennedy said if she is forced to return them, she will only send them to the Privacy Commissioner or the Ministry of Justice.

Kennedy is looking at laying an official complaint against MBIE for the handling of the situation, which she said has left her in the dark over her own claim.

She is also not convinced her private information is safe in the hands of the ministry.

MBIE National Manager of Resolution Services Justin Rowlands said they had apologised to Kennedy for the "regrettable processing error" that led to her being provided with documents relating to another Tenancy Tribunal case.

"Ms Kennedy contacted MBIE to report the error and immediate steps were taken to inform the other individual involved and determine if Ms Kennedy's details were provided to any third party."

Enquiries from the ministry indicated Kennedy's application information had not been sent to any other parties.

"Human error" was to blame for the situation, and the ministry was taking a number of steps to ensure mistakes were minimised as much as possible, Rowlands said.

The current system for processing the 45,000 applications received annually was being reviewed, and a new case management system to move aspects of the application process online would minimise incidents of human error in future.

A spokesman for the Privacy Commissioner said they were alerted by MBIE about the error, and the ministry had told them they were working to resolve the situation.

"We don't generally comment on individual cases. There is always the possibility that this may lead to a complaint to us," he said.

The Privacy Act restricts organisations releasing personal information unless the disclosure is to the individual concerned.